The future of landscape quality and public benefits from
England’s thousands of acres of common land is at risk unless the graziers who
manage them continue to receive agricultural and environmental support.
These are among the findings published in a 256 page study
produced by the Pastoral Commoning Partnership, which included a number of
practising commoners, under a contract from Natural England held by Carlisle
based land agency H&H Bowe.
The report, Trends in Pastoral Commoning, covers those commons
that are grazed with livestock, examines examples of the diversity of one
million acres of common land throughout England, from coastal and lowland
commons to the vast hill and upland area including the Lake District and the
Pennines in the north and Exmoor and Dartmoor in the south west, 30 per cent of
which is in Cumbria.
The research combines data from desk
studies with new field data gathered from 18 commons across England and from 20
national and regional stakeholders with an interest in common land.
The field data reviews changes over
a twenty year period until 2007 and anticipated changes over the following
twenty years to 2027.
H&H Bowe’s Julia Aglionby, a specialist in commons and
their management, and one of the authors of the report concludes that
Government backing is essential through agricultural support and environmental
schemes for an active community of commoners.
“The process of pastoral communing is like a tree with the
commoner as the trunk,” she says. “To maintain the commoner, a range of
nutrients are required, a profitable livestock business with acceptable stock
prices being the essential input.
“It is also recognised that Government support is essential
through agricultural support and environmental schemes.”
The project director, Andrew Humphries MBE, says that
despite evidence outlined in the report of improved agricultural efficiency in
recent decades and the potential for adding value, primary production is
contributing to farm incomes on a declining scale.
“The research has identified support to add value to the
primary produce which is an important aspect of sustaining the motivation of
“However, the decoupling of support from grazing stock and
the issues surrounding the Single Farm Payment has drawn the fragility of
primary production into sharp focus.
“Primary production is now complemented by a range of
‘public goods’ which make commons of national significance for flora, fauna,
access and cultural landscape which are strongly ‘externally focussed’.
“The challenge to Natural England and Defra to link market
and public goods into a coherent and sustainable system demands timely and deep
Mr Humphries predicts that this demand for ‘public goods’
coupled with the influence of global climatic changes is likely to change
pastoral commons at a revolutionary pace and this adjustment process could be
enhanced by collaboration and mutual understanding.
The historical importance of commons is highlighted by Port
Meadow in Oxford which was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. Complex
sheep identification systems on many commons are thought to have originated in
Their environmental significance is
made in a current proposal to seek World Heritage Status for the Lake District
as an exceptional landscape and place further links to communal grazings.
The steering group makes particular
mention of the “statesmen’s landscape‟ and the assessment of outstanding significance
refers specifically to “Commons: valued for their visual openness‟ and to the history of communal land management
as unenclosed grazing.
Prominent among those who recognised
the “public goods” linked to commons were the literary figures of the Lake
District. Wordsworth successfully led the opposition to enclose Grasmere common
by the agent of Lady le Fleming, leaving the common in its state of semi
natural beauty and the commoners with their rights of commonage and goosage.
Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley the prime
mover in the establishment of the National Trust and profoundly influenced by
Ruskin, wrote with deep commitment and understanding of commoning in his
description of being “on Hellvellyn with the shepherds” showing genuine understanding of the special
cultural nature of communal grazing and its effect on commoners.
NECR001 - Trends in pastoral commoning (6.0MB)
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